Every five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publish Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For decades, this report has suggested we limit our dietary cholesterol intake. The recommendation from 2010: no more than 300 mg per day (equivalent to around two eggs).
However, the latest guidelines for 2015 are reversing this longstanding dietary “rule,” taking cholesterol out of the guidelines altogether. Why? According to UVA Heart & Vascular Center and Club Red cardiologist Brandy Patterson, MD , it’s because the cholesterol in the foods you eat has only a minimal effect (about 5 percent) on your overall blood cholesterol levels.
“It varies depending on the person, but only around 25 percent of the cholesterol in our bodies is absorbed in the intestine — 12 percent is from food and 12 percent is cholesterol reabsorbed from bile,” she says. “The majority — 75 percent — is produced by the liver.”
The body uses cholesterol to maintain cell membranes, produce hormones and other important functions. “If you don’t eat enough cholesterol, your body will make more,” says Patterson. “For most of us, we can’t eat enough to meet the needs of our body’s daily function.”
Focus On Fats
While the Dietary Guidelines suggest that high-cholesterol foods are off the “naughty” list per se, that’s definitely not the case with foods high in saturated and trans fats. “Distinguishing between the types of fats we’re eating should be our main focus – not cholesterol,” says Patterson. Here’s what you need to know:
- Saturated fats are found in animal products like meats and dairy, plant-based products such as palm and coconut oil, and many baked goods and fried foods.
- Trans fats are still present in some processed foods. Look for partially hydrogenated oils on the label.
- Saturated and trans fatty acids increase the LDL or “bad” cholesterol in your blood and decrease the HDL or “good” cholesterol.
- Saturated and especially trans fats are two of the leading contributors to coronary artery disease.
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are found in a variety of natural oils and foods, including olive oil, fatty fish like salmon and herring, as well as most nuts.
- Mono and poly fats decrease your bad cholesterol and raise your good cholesterol.
With these points in mind, the new recommendations for fat consumption state that no more than 10 percent of your calorie intake per day should come from saturated fats and that you should avoid trans fats altogether if possible. Instead, the guidelines recommend opting for healthier MUFAs and PUFAs, for which there are no limitations suggested.
To help you choose your fats wisely, here are some suggestions on how to incorporate healthy fats into your diet from Club Red dietitian Katherine Basbaum, MS, RD:
- Make salad dressings with extra virgin olive oil
- Use light olive oil or canola oil for cooking
- Try unsalted nuts as a snack or add them to salads or oatmeal
- Top salads with avocado or use it as a spread for sandwiches instead of mayo
- Try minimally processed almond or peanut butter on whole wheat bread, spread onto sliced apples or blended into a smoothie or bowl of hot cereal
- Eat fatty, cold-water fish anyway you choose: baked trout, tuna salad, grilled salmon cakes, crackers and sardines, etc.
For recipes low in saturated fats, take a look at our recipe library.
If you need help managing your heart disease risk factors, call 434.243.1000 to make an appointment today with UVA Heart and Vascular Center .